Pirates: Police say Tabata not linked to abduction of 2-year-old

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Jose Tabata is not involved in any wrongdoing in a bizarre case in which his much-older wife is charged with abducting a 2-year-old baby girl from a Florida couple, police told the team.

Tabata, a 20-year-old outfielder who is one of the Pirates' top minor leaguers, said in a statement Wednesday that he is "hurt, frustrated, and confused" that his 43-year-old wife, Amalia Tabata Pereira, is accused of taking the girl from a woman at a health clinic in Plant City, east of Tampa, on Monday night.

Tabata's wife was turned over Wednesday to authorities in Hillsborough County after she was held Tuesday night in a Bradenton jail in lieu of $750,000 bond. She was arrested after handing over the girl to authorities in a Bradenton shopping center parking lot, less than 24 hours after the infant was taken.

Jose Tabata was questioned by Manatee County authorities on Tuesday night following his wife's arrest, but they later told the Pirates the outfielder is not involved in the case.

"Jose was as shocked as the rest of us upon hearing the news and has cooperated fully with law enforcement officials," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said Wednesday in a statement. "The Pirates organization will continue to do anything and everything we can to assist and support Jose during this difficult personal time."

Tabata, who spent part of spring training with the Pirates, did not take part in workouts at their minor league complex Wednesday and declined to talk to reporters. He is unlikely to play in any minor league exhibition games the next few days as he deals with his wife's arrest.

"I was shocked to be told that my wife was arrested for kidnapping," Tabata said in a statement issued by the team. "I am hurt, frustrated and confused by her actions. I have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials in any way that I can. Until I have all of the facts, I cannot comment any further."

The Pirates also said they could not further discuss the incident.

"Due to the nature of this ongoing investigation, we cannot discuss any specifics of the case, other than to say that, like Jose, we are extremely thankful the young child was safely returned to her family," Coonelly said. "Our hearts go out to her and her family for the pain they must have endured during the hours that she was missing."

The incident probably won't keep Tabata off the field for an extended period. He is expected to begin the season with Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League, where he was optioned last week after hitting .407 in 27 exhibition at-bats with the Pirates.

The infant, Sandra Cruz-Francisco, was taken from her mother, Rosa Sirilo-Francisco, about 3 p.m. Monday by a woman her family only knew as "Janet," according to police in Plant City, about 60 miles from Bradenton. The mother had taken her baby for a checkup at the Plant City Health Department, where she met Janet, who said she was an immigration official.

The woman told Sirilo-Francisco there were officers at her home waiting to deport her and the child's father to Mexico.

The woman known as Janet offered to help, but said she had to take the baby. The two women drove with the infant to a farm where the child's father works and Janet told him the same story, and the mother later handed the child over.

Authorities in Manatee County said Pereira was detained after an anonymous tipster called police to report a woman in downtown Bradenton had information about the missing baby. The baby was handed over when police responded to that call.

Tabata was considered one of the New York Yankees' top prospects last year, only to walk out of a game involving their Double-A Trenton farm club early last season. Tabata apparently was frustrated by his slow start.

The incident partly led to the Yankees including Tabata in the July trade in which the Pirates dealt outfielder Xavier Nady and left-hander Damaso Marte to New York for Tabata and right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen.

After the trade, Tabata hit .348 in 22 games with Altoona — or 100 points higher than he hit in 79 games for Trenton — and had three homers and 13 RBIs in 89 at-bats. Tabata, a native of Venezuela, also impressed the Pirates this spring with his line-drive power, throwing arm and ability to learn quickly.

Upon making the trade, the Pirates apparently were unaware that Tabata was married to a woman more than twice his age who, according to the St. Petersburg Times, spent more than two years in a state prison about 10 years ago for an arson case. Family members told the newspaper that Pereira, a native of Puerto Rico, has four children of her own, all of them teenagers or older.

The woman apparently has used at least four names in the past, and the name given to police does not match the one — Mayita — in the Pirates' media guide.

Tabata and the woman were married in January 2008 in Hillsborough County.

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